BOOK: "A Guide to the Coral Reefs of the Caribbean," by Mark D. Spalding (University of California Press, $49.95 cloth, $24.95 paper)
TARGET AUDIENCE: Underwater snoops.
QUICK TAKE: "There is no better way to enjoy a visit to a coral reef than to understand it," says reef scientist Spalding, who proceeds to take us on a series of "island tours." But he doesn't show off their casinos, tiki bars or clothing-optional beaches; rather, it's their shipwrecks, underwater caves and coral sanctuaries that we tour. Defining "Caribbean" expansively, Spalding sweeps from Bermuda to Trinidad and includes the Florida Keys, the Bahamas, and Turks and Caicos. In each he describes the reefs we'll see and the creatures we'll meet. He warns of areas that are fished out or otherwise damaged (but not 2004's hurricane destruction).
Spalding supplies some 43 maps and many vivid color photos of corals and the fish who call them home. The tours are preceded by an easy-to-take lesson on the formation of reefs and a low-key sermon on protecting them. He highlights areas of particular interest -- for example, whale shark spawning grounds off Belize, or the volcanic devastation and rebirth of Montserrat.
RANT: Snorkelers would appreciate a clearer distinction between sites where you can snorkel and those that require scuba gear.
RAVE: Mom? Can I wear my flippers to bed?
-- Jerry V. Haines